Sky holds the door to the station open for Alma as they return, but a worried-looking Cpl Kaur nearly runs into her.
“Oh thank goodness you’re back! I was just about to run out to find you! Sergeant Gwydion brought in a bleeding goddess. I mean, I mean, I wasn’t cursing or anything – she’s actually bleeding! She’s in his office!”
She immediately rushes to the stairs, her thick plait of hair bouncing as she tries to explain over her shoulder while they follow. “Her name is Doria! Cala knows her – I’ve met her a couple of times too. She’s a priestess for the Oracle, you know, the mermaid goddess?”
Alma stops in surprise. “The Oracle? The Oracle??”
“Uh, yes ma’am! I mean...I think so...” Aliyah takes the stairs two at a time. “She’s the only oracle around here, anyway. Not counting all those street fortune tellers.”
Sky hears Alma whisper to herself, “The Oracle is in Three Rats?!”
The door to the office that Dion shares with Alma is open. There are two desks, one facing the door and another placed at the end of the room, to the left, as if to maximize the open space between them. Along another wall is a sofa, on which reclines a figure who cannot be clearly seen, as the large form of GC Lamore, sitting on the edge of the sofa, and a concerned-looking Gwydion standing in the doorway, are blocking most of the view.
Alma glances at Gwydion as he steps aside, then kneels next to the sofa and Cala Lamore. Alma sees the pale, unconscious face of the unfamiliar goddess, her head swathed in soaking-wet bandages, pink with diluted blood. There is a blanket over her – it too is cold and wet, and the sofa itself is wet and water-stained.
“Did someone throw a bucket of water on her, trying to awaken her?” Alma demands in a voice both astonished and outraged.
GC Lamore replies, “No, Sergeant, that’s just how she is. Doria’s hair, and her clothes – they’re always wet. She told me it’s a naiad thing. Half-naiad, anyway.”
“Oh.” Alma takes the unconscious demigoddess’ hand, and sees the telltale webbed fingers. “How long have you known her?”
“A few years now, ma’am. We have a chat when my patrol takes me near the waterfall. She’s quite friendly. We, uh, tend to debate religion. She’s going to be all right, isn’t she?” Cala’s voice, always so calm, cracks slightly, making her question sound plaintive.
“She’ll be fine,” Alma assures her. “Who bandaged her up?”
“Doc Nate,” says Cala.
Alma nods. She pulls away the wet blanket, useful only for concealing the demigoddess’ form, and dumps it squishily to the floor. Doria is wearing only a dark-blue swimsuit, and as Cala said, it is wet, adding constantly to the water that is slowly turning Alma and Dion’s office sofa into a huge waterlogged sponge. Seeing no other wounds, Alma lays her hands on Doria’s cold cheeks and sends her divine will into the unconscious demigoddess. The wound is a bad one – deep, cracking the skull. Fortunately there is no serious brain damage. Why didn’t the Oracle heal her? Alma wonders, and feels a chill at the obvious answer: Because she couldn’t.
Meanwhile Sky is speaking quietly with Dion, getting the story of Dion’s encounter with the half-naiad. “She said, ‘They’ve stolen the pearl.’ And nothing since then?”
“That’s right, sir. She passed out. I used my own healing magic to stop the bleeding, but it started up again, and she’s been unconscious since.” His voice turns speculative, “I wonder where all that water is coming from, exactly...”
“You can ask her later. For now,” he steps over to a large map of the ward that decorates one wall of the office, “where did you find her?”
“Here, near the waterfall,” Dion says, tapping on the map. “It’s a secluded pool, very roman– uh, scenic.”
They both turn at the sound of a sudden gasp from the supine figure. Alma, knocked off-balance, falls back to land on her derrière, and Cala almost slips off the sofa as well. The demigoddess is struggling and shouting, “They have the Pearl! The goddess is in pain! I have to help her! Get off me!”